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We have put a fair amount of effort into reducing the impact of our staff canteen in our office. One part of this is introducing separate food waste and recyclables bins. However many canteen users use the wrong bins, with significant amounts of all types of waste going into all three bins.

The bins are well signposted but people seem either to not read or otherwise disregard the signs.

Is there any research on how to encourage waste sorting, or failing that does anyone have anecdotal evidence on effective ways to improve this situation?

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Although quite old and aimed at more general recycling, a study by Porter et al. (1995) found that:

  • prompts by group leaders reliably increased recycling, with verbal prompts more effective than written
  • setting a goal for the amount of recycling the group wanted to do increased recycling, this was more effective than being giving feedback on recycling behaviour
  • written commitments to recycling were as effective at increasing rates as rewards for recycling, verbal commitments were less effective
  • rewards for recycling were effective, especially when a lottery for a large reward as opposed to small immediate rewards
  • a real economic loss for not recycling increased recycling rates
  • increasing the number of recycling bins available increased recycling rates
  • BUT none of these interventions showed maintenance of improved recycling behaviour after the intervention was stopped

Other papers I haven't had a chance to read but might help (not sure whether you'll be able to access these as I have institutional access with my degree, happy to give them a skim if you can't and I have time):

Edited to add this gem: one other way to increase cooperation in office tasks is to include a poster with some eyes on - people don't like being watched!

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